Trading Community for Comfort?

After 5 years of life in Asia – 3 of which were spent at ASRI – being back stateside is strange.

No doubt, there is much to relish - rekindling spirits with family and friends, eating foods that don't appear in Bornean village markets, driving a car anywhere at anytime of the day. But the most striking piece that I keep coming back to is the disconnect I feel here in anytown, America. I find myself wondering, where do we find community?

Sukadana Dock

Sukadana Dock - Photo by D. Agashe.

A former Health In Harmony volunteer nailed it. Upon reading Rhiya Trivedi's blog, who spent a summer in Sukadana at project ASRI and is now on a year-long Watson Fellowship trying to better the world through a better understanding of it, a line in her message jumped out at me.

Kari Malen discusses reforestation plans with project staff. Photo by Jessica de Jarnette.

Photo by J. de Jarnette.

As we move forward to the future those who have are Trading Community for Comfort. After seeing and living amongst the haves and have-nots on various parts of the globe, our sense of community here in America saddens me. We would rather have privacy fences than neighbors, houses with extra rooms but rarely any guests, relationships through facebook posts and on-line dating instead of actual face-to face conversations. We have become attached to our stuff and our personal space, and it owns us. We may be comfortable but are we happy?

I miss greatly the people of small town Asia, particularly Sukadana, whose kids would play in my yard and neighbors would sit on my porch and give me gardening advice – even if I did not ask for it. We would trade meals and share ideas, even if they weren't like-minded. And no-one got angry. Different ethnic groups resided amongst each other and beliefs were personal. When crisis struck, everyone pitched in, and when celebration was in order, the same.

The community meets. Photo courtesy of K. Webb.

The community meets. Photo courtesy of K. Webb.

It seems that here amongst the 'haves' we want only to converse with those who hold our beliefs or are in the same socio-economic class, fearing that which is different. We would rather have a castle than a community and it is apparent in the mental well-being issues we are facing. And I want to shout out, “Stop hoarding, start sharing. Plan for the good of all, not the benefit of a few. We will all be better off for it.” But I too need to digest that lesson.

We are a nation that sets the example. What example? The one that the rest of the world wants to be like. We need to take that responsibility seriously. If we can't recycle, reduce our level of consumption, decrease greenhouse gases, treat others with respect, love thy neighbor...the list goes on and can we expect other countries to?

Photo by L. Tobias.

Photo by L. Tobias.

This month Health In Harmony's ASRI program celebrates Hari Hijau, which translates to 'Green Day', in a small village on the edge of Gunung Palung National Park. The celebration marks the efforts and pride of the local community members who have worked to help reforest and protect one of the last remaining parcels of lowland tropical rainforest in Borneo, which is home to some of the last remaining wild orangutan and gibbon populations in the world, as well as a whole host of other species. Many of these community members have given up logging income as they realize the importance of keeping forest viable for future generations and the world. They have given up logging income that would allow them to better their homes, buy a cell phone or even pay off a medical debt. They have done so because they see the benefit of keeping the forest for the community - the local one and the global one. We should look to them as the example. How can we mirror this message in our own communities?

Celebrate with us and the villages of Gunung Palung National Park. This month, I'd like to say - Happy hari hijau!

A smiling Kari Malen documents a successful reforestation plot. Photo by Kari herself.

Me with a successful reforestation plot.



About Kari Malen | View all posts by Kari Malen

Kari is the International Program Development Director at Health In Harmony, and is based in Taos, NM.